Vols’ Zeigler has torn ACL, out for the season

Vols’ Zeigler has torn ACL, out for the season

The Tennessee Volunteers (22-8 straight up, 16-14 against the spread) won’t have one of their best players for the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

Zakai Zeigler, the 5-foot-9 sophomore point guard, sustained a torn ACL early in the first half of last night’s 75-57 win over Arkansas as a 5.5-point home favorite. He’ll obviously miss the rest of the season and possibly some of next year as well.

Zeigler leads Tennessee in steals (2.0 SPG) and assists (5.4 APG), is second in minutes played (28:42 per game) and 3-pointers made (51), third in scoring (10.7 PPG), third in free-throw percentage (83.3%) and was one of only three Vols that had played in all 30 games.

As a freshman in 2021-22, Zeigler averaged 8.8 points, 2.5 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. He buried 84.8 percent of his free throws and 35.8 percent of his treys.

On the bright side, Rick Barnes’s team got Josiah-Jordan James back in this past Saturday’s 85-45 home win over South Carolina. The senior guard had missed four games in a row with an ankle injury.

James made a triumphant return against the Gamecocks, hitting 7-of-11 field-goal attempts and 4-of-7 launches from 3-point territory to score a team-high 18 points. Then last night against the Razorbacks, he finished with 11 points, three rebounds and three steals.

For the season, James is averaging 10.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.1 SPG.

Another bright spot last night was the return of true freshman forward Julian Phillips, who was back after missing four straight games with a hip flexor. Phillips, a five-star recruit who is averaging 9.0 points and 4.8 RPG, contributed seven points, five rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes of playing time.

Tennessee is third in the NET rankings today thanks to a 7-5 record against Quad-1 opponents. The Vols are currently pegged as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament by most bracket gurus. They’re 3-3 versus Quad-2 foes and are undefeated in 12 games against Quad-3 or Quad-4 opponents.

Without Zeigler, senior guard Santiago Vescovi will slide over and assume most of the point-guard duties moving forward.

Barnes’s bunch will close the regular season Saturday at Auburn.

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